Easter Sunday message

This past Sunday, as is the case each Easter, we had lots of visitors. Usually it is children coming home to see parents, but this time we also had random visitors from town. Members of their family came from out of town and they wanted to attend a church together, and picked ours. It was wonderful and many of our members reached out to them in a warm welcome, and that was nice to see. Of course my extroverted husband was one of them, bless his heart! Here is what the members and visitors heard that morning. I must admit having such a large audience did make me a bit more animated, and sort of took away the nagging pain in my back. On Monday I went to the chiropractor and she is a magician. Here is the message.

The scriptures we had were: Psalms 118:1, 4-6, 22-24, Colossians 3:1-4 and Matthew 28:1-10. The title was simply, “Easter Morning.”

I read the gospel lesson here at the start then gave the following message: There were two choices for the gospel reading this morning. Both were the story of the resurrection, but each is a bit different. The other choice was from John chapter 20 and we have read it in the past. It is the version that fits more with the song we sang on Thursday about Mary in the garden alone not recognizing Jesus.

Today we have the version from Matthew. It is similar, but not exactly the same. The women see the angel, the empty tomb and Jesus. Later some of the disciples see him and recognize him, and he tells them to go tell the others. And in Matthew’s accounting, both the angel and Jesus tell the women and the disciples to go to Galilee to meet with him.

Ah, Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus grew up. Galilee is where Nazareth is located If you remember back to the story that we often read during Christmas…and he shall be called a Nazarene, words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah…is in the gospel of Matthew in the story of Jesus’ birth.

But again today we are not going to focus on the story of the history of this text because we basically know that. Today, we will look more at the historical geography of this scripture and what it means for us. And our message for today will be the story of why it is important for us to know that version now.

So let us begin with the geography. The area of Galilee is fairly small in comparison to Samaria and Judea and the surrounding places. Nazareth, itself, was basically a small, isolated village. But, in the same area of Galilee where Nazareth was located, there was another city, a much larger city. A place that was Roman ruled with roads and other “modern” infrastructure put up by the Romans. It was a metropolis compared to the little farming village where Jesus grew up.

This other city Sepphoris or Tzippori (Hebrew) as it is named on some of the maps was much larger and far more important in its day than Nazareth. This other city was between 3-4 miles from Nazareth and apparently sitting up on a hill. It was also known as Diocaesaraea by the Greeks with another name being La Sephorie, which is what the French called it during the Crusades. Whatever the name you use for it, during the time Jesus lived on earth it was a growing thriving city with people from all parts of the world, and they were from all religions and all cultures.

And I am not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg (as in which came first), but this city was along a major trade route between countries of the west and countries of the east, it was one of those silk/spice trade routes that moved goods, and animals, and people and cultures from one end of the world to the other. And because of his knowledge and way of acting, this is where many of the Biblical scholars believe Jesus geographically spent part of those unknown years, you know, his teenage and younger adult (his 20’s) years.

The scholars believe that Jesus as a male son and heir likely worked with Joseph in the carpentry trade, and so at that time he was in the middle of a world where there were diverse populations and languages and ideas and actions and beliefs. Not much different from some of the big cities in our country today, and not so different from some of the larger towns in our own area as of late.

But we all know that Jesus did not stay in that world. We all know the stories we have in the Bible. In his early 30’s Jesus left all of that carpentry and family behind and was baptized by John and began the work of his heavenly father. He gathered his disciples and taught them all the things that we learn in the scriptures and charged them as he does us now to go out and share all of that with the world, and mostly to share the love that God has for us, and I think that is the important part of what we have to learn for today.

The truth is that not all of us have been given the gift of voice or witness or the opportunity of missionary work. Not all of us have that ability to stand on the street corner calling out to others to listen to the word. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t see evangelism as the strong suit of our denomination. We really aren’t that sort of Christians.

And I would guess if we did a poll here today, I wouldn’t be the only one a little skeptical about people who are that sort of Christian. It is sad, but true, I am suspicious of those who are that open about their witnessing; it might have a little to do with my stoic German-Russian genetics, or it might be related to the staunch Puritan ancestry of our church. While on our trip in Tennessee we went to one of the center squares on our last night there, and as we were leaving we noticed that in the middle of the musical entertainers set up every few feet there were a couple of people witnessing and preaching for the crowd. I will just say, it made me a little nervous, and I have to ask myself, why?

When I think of how Jesus shared his love, the love that he was sent by God to show the world, I see the story of the diverse culture in which he must have been raised. I see that in more than just the historical geography of the area where he lived. The proof is in all of the stories about him in the gospels. The proof is in the way that Jesus treated others. He did not take on the closed attitude of the leaders of the religion to which he was born. First off, he didn’t exclude women when he reached out to help those in need, and he didn’t forbid them from being part of his group of followers as the synagogue excluded them from the inner places of worship. We have lots of those stories all the way from the healing of the woman with the years long hemorrhage to the way he treated Mary as she poured the expensive ointment on his feet and washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair.

Jesus also did not withhold his compassion or healing or love from those of different cultures or social status. We have lots of those stories. When he healed the 10 lepers we learn that one was a Samaritan (someone who should have been considered an outcast by a spiritual leader in Jesus area). We learn that when the Samaritan is the only one who returns to say thank you. And, Jesus speaks favorably of Samaritans in his parable about the Good Samaritan as he is teaching about being a good neighbor. He also heals the servant of a Centurion/a Roman military leader and even instructs his disciples to pay their taxes with his, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” statement.

Jesus does not show prejudice for or against those who were outside of the family in which he grew up. There is even a story of his mother and siblings coming to see him when he stops and says that everyone who believes is his mother and sister and brother. That is who Jesus was and that is the example he expects us to follow. We here in our community and in the area we live in have had a bit of a sheltered upbringing. We haven’t had to deal with many outside of our German-Russian ancestry, well with a few exceptions of some Norwegians or British or Dutch, or some eastern Europeans, but not much else until recently. And it seems the more you watch the news, the more you learn about the battle in our country between those who would open the doors to everyone and those who want things to go back to the days of the long past. And as much as I want to think myself above this sort of prejudice, while I was putting this message together, I came to realize, my issue is not with skin color or race or language; it is with ideas and ideology and values, and I need to come to grips with that fact and make some changes.

What we learn from the acts and the parables of Jesus is that he doesn’t give his concern and love to people based on the color of their skin or the language that they spoke. He didn’t come to earth to be the Messiah only for the people who looked and talked and worshiped as he and his earthly parents did. Jesus died on the cross for everyone. And mostly Jesus expects us to accept that his love and our love should also be for everyone and that even means it should be for those who live a bit differently than we do.

On a side note, another item that intrigued me this week was how on earth did this day come to be known as Easter Sunday? I don’t see that word in any of the scripture lessons. Some believe that the word Easter is likely from a more pagan tradition and was taken from the name of a Saxon goddess that is related to the word east and had something to do with spring and the new life of new growth. Others who are religious scholars prefer the idea that it comes from the German word of Ostern which originates in an older time from the old Teutonic form of auferstehn. I can’t tell you exactly which is true, but I can tell you, I sort of like that second idea better. Well, how many of us have heard of the Oster Haas (Easter rabbit)? [Thank you to the internet and the websites that supplied this information]

The bottom line is that no matter where the English word originated that we use to identify today, and no matter how much we learn about the historical or geographical parts of the human life that Jesus lived, what matters for us today, on this beautiful and wonderful Easter Sunday, is the fact that we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. We are celebrating the unbelievable love that God had for us in giving his Son to wipe out our sins, our flaws, our shortcomings. And when we accept that love for us, we are then called to share it with those around us, and that means all of those around us, not just our family, though that is a good start. God expects us to share the love of Christ with others and as I said before, maybe we are not great as shouting it from the roof tops or the street corners, but at the least, we need to share that love in our actions towards others. Remember, God expects us to show our Christian love to everyone without judgment or prejudice. Let’s keep that in mind this week as we interact with those around us. And in case you were wondering, next week we will be celebrating Earth Sunday, so we will expand the story to include the rest of creation. Amen!

Happy Father’s Day

The following message was used at St. Paul’s in Eureka on June 15, 2014: Father’s Day. The scripture was Matthew 28:16-20 and Psalm 8. The title was God and Father’s Day.

I hope you enjoy, and I hope that the information I have used from the article found on-line is sufficiently referenced. It was taken from the Christian Science Monitor prior to Father’s Day in 2010.

I have a saying that I like to use in school when students complain about something being NOT FAIR. I tell them that a fare is where you take your fat pigs to win purple ribbons. Now if I wanted to use a more polite tone, I might say it is where you take your homemade jelly or your prized Holstein or a cutely crafted item, but I prefer the impact of saying fat pig. It gets their attention a little better, and by the time they sit and ponder what I have just said, we get to move on in the lesson. Today, though, in the effort of fairness, I think it is ok that we talk about Father’s Day. It is only fair after all, since we took time on another Sunday to discuss Mother’s Day and God as a nurturing God much like our Mothers our nurturing, so we will take time today to discuss Father’s Day.

Some people who are really concerned about inclusionary language, political correctness and fairness might argue that if you look around at the words of the hymns and way the Bible stories are written, every church day is Father’s Day. It is true most of what we read or study or say in church is written in the male gender. We also know that most of that is a historically cultural fact, not necessarily a plan to keep women in a subservient position. And of all places, we know that this church, especially our wider church is more than aware of the influence of the male dominated language and we go out of our way to balance the scales.

Perhaps that is why we can go to a conference meeting and almost celebrate when a young man is at the pulpit because it is almost the exception instead of the dictated norm, but that is not our context today. I will put in a plug for next week, though, if you want the “rest of the story” tune in next Sunday at this same time when we will be celebrating the 57th year of the United Church of Christ, and we will be talking about some of that as well as information from the Annual Meeting.

Today though, I want to focus on the importance of Fathers, and the many strong and compassionate men in our lives. According to some research I did this week, [Thank you to Associated Press writer, Nicholas K. Geranios] Father’s Day started over 100 years ago on June 19, 2010 because a woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd felt it was unfair to celebrate mothers while ignoring fathers. Apparently Dodd was in church in 1908 when her pastor was preaching about the importance of mothers on the occasion of the newly formed Mother’s Day. Though she said she liked the sermon, she was upset that Fathers were not also revered.

Perhaps Dodd’s main reason for wanting to celebrate Father’s was because her father, who was a Civil War veteran became a single father when his wife, Dodd’s mother died in child birth in 1898 (sixth child). As the oldest child in the family, Dodd helped her father keep the family together, and after she had children of her own, she realized what a feat he had performed raising them all by himself.

Dodd pushed for a Father’s Day and the first actual celebration was held in Spokane in June of 1910. Fathers in church were given red roses and people whose fathers were deceased wore white roses. Others also pushed for this holiday, but Dodd is the one who worked to make it a nationally recognized celebration. President Wilson spoke at a Father’s Day event and wanted it to become a special day, but wasn’t able to make it happen. President Coolidge also wanted to make it a National Holiday, but it wasn’t until 1966 when President Johnson issued a proclamation for the date, and then finally in 1972, President Nixon signed a bill from Congress proclaiming the third Sunday of June as the permanent official Father’s Day.

A few Census figures regarding men and families include: At one point, it was figured that about 15 percent of single parents are men. In addition, there were 158,000 stay-at-home dads in 2009, who raised the kids while their wives worked, and 71 percent of 6-year-olds ate breakfast and dinner with their fathers every day as recently as 2006.

Being a father is more than just passing on genetic material to create a child. As many of you know, being a father is more than earning an income to provide for the family in a financial way. In fact, that is probably one of the greatest favors that the Women’s Liberation Movement has done for men in that when women accepted more of the financial responsibility for the family, men were freed to carry out more of the nurturing duties.

But if being a father is not just about the genetics or the money, what is it about? Perhaps if we stopped to take a pause and all wrote down 10 things that make a good father, we would come up with all sorts of things like those that members of my family brainstormed for me yesterday: head of the household, someone who is there for you, a fixer, a leader, caring and compassionate, helper, knows things and someone who just listens to you. .

When I was thinking of qualities of a good father, I couldn’t help but think of James’ father. Now James might have some different memories. He always talks about the Father who was standing at the bottom of the stairs yelling that it was time to get out of bed to come to the barn to milk. He also remembers the tough farmer, who wanted the bales hauled today before the rain hits, and there was no time for rest.

I didn’t know him until it was almost time for him to retire, and then I saw the man, who wouldn’t let his wife drive to or from Ladies Aid because what if the car broke down or there was a flat. Some might have seen that as domineering or controlling, but at some point I realized it was his caring side. Just a little side note here, for her point, Mary Ann always poured his coffee, added the sugar and a spoon and set it on the table for him. I finally realized that they did those things for each other because of a deep and nurturing love, not because of any laws of dominance or subservience. And I will tell you that try as we might, James and I have never been able to duplicate that attitude towards each other because James has never learned to drink coffee, and that has just blown it all.

But as much as I noticed their caring for each other so many years ago, later when she was gone I also saw how he was with his children, always wanting what was best for them, and always working things out in his mind as to how he could help them or give them advise on things from the farm work to a job or financial decision. He was always thinking about what would make things turn out for the best for his family. Don’t we all want that, what is best for our children? So, how much more is that true of what God wants for us?

Today as a church we celebrate what is called, Trinity Sunday. The scripture in Matthew mentions what is considered the three parts of God: God the Father; God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. The trinity of God is not something we talk about very much in our church. In fact, if you were to check out the UCC website for today’s lesson, you would find that they have based the suggestions for today’s message entirely on the Old Testament scripture, which I chose to skip for today. It is found in Genesis and is about the creation of the world. The lesson of the New Testament is in truth not so far off the beginning of the world. It is the beginning of the world of Christianity. Today’s lesson is about Jesus commissioning the disciples to go out into the world to make disciples of all men, of all people. He sends them to call all people to a belief in God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit that is given to everyone–even to all of us too.

Here we see Jesus as the supreme authority figure; he is much like the definition of Father as the “Head of the Household.” Jesus is taking charge and telling the disciples what they must do; he gives them their task, just as he gives us our task in life. Whatever it is we do as an occupation, whatever we are to our family, mother-father-sister-brother-aunt-uncle-cousin-grandparent, we are all given the task of taking care of and nurturing each other as we further the gospel, the Good News of Jesus and God’s kingdom. We aren’t sent as a way to promote a specific agenda. We aren’t sent as a control issue. God wants us to proclaim this good news because becoming part of His kingdom is what is best for us. So as we leave here today and probably go to spend some time with family let’s remember that everything we do, every action we take, everything we do to or for someone else is done in the name of promoting the Kingdom of God whether we realize it consciously or we just do it. So let’s go in an attitude of working towards what God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit know and want as best for us and all the world, to share God’s love with each other. Amen!

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